Torchbearer: Mojoyin Onijala. Yoruba. New York City.
Someone once told me - “Don’t forget that you’re probably going to be working for the rest of your life. So don’t pressure yourself to make what you think are the ‘perfect’ choices now. You might have a great job one year but then completely change career paths later – and that sort of change is fine! When you look at your career choices with the viewpoint of an entire lifetime, you’ll understand that you have plenty of time to get it right.”
Keeping these wise words in mind, I’ve allowed myself the freedom to ask “what’s next?”, after becoming a successful corporate attorney.
This is my journey.
Corporations, Contracts, and Corruption
For the last decade or so, I've worked as a corporate litigation attorney, representing corporate clients in legal disputes. The bulk of my work has focused on internal investigations, which is when a client hires an attorney to investigate allegations of wrongdoing that may have occurred in their company. These cases usually start when an employee “whistle blows” or lodges an internal complaint, alleging anything from a violation of the company’s code of conduct, to a violation of local laws. Quite often, I’d work on matters where clients were concerned about potential employee fraud . . . and in some cases, corrupt payments to government officials. My job was to do a deep dive and help my clients understand whether the allegations are true, and find the answers to questions such as – Is this a one-off problem or does it show a systematic break down in company values? How many years has this conduct been going on? What are the company’s liabilities? What laws have been broken? How can we prevent this from ever happening again?
I really enjoy working on investigations matters, mainly because it resonates with my background. I grew up in a country where I experienced firsthand the terrible effect of corruption on daily life.
I know that when corruption isn’t dealt with immediately, it will fester and spread to the point where it becomes almost uncontrollable.
When hospitals can’t receive a steady electricity supply because someone decided to bribe the officials in charge to look the other way, people die. When roads can’t be constructed, and schools can’t be built because the money for the project has gone into someone’s private bank account, we are all affected.
Working on these cases is my way of fighting against the tide of corruption.
Lawyer Means Leader
People tend to think that lawyers are often asked to compromise on their values. But I really believe that the law tends to lineup on the side of good! And when it doesn't, there are always lawyers willing to advocate for the laws to change.
All we have to do is take a look at what is going on in the U.S. right now, to understand just how necessary good lawyers are. Our society needs advocates
for change, and I work with a lot of clients who want to be at the forefront of change. These clients want to set standards, not follow them, and raise the bar for others. If you are encouraging your clients to always be their best and set the best example, then you're not compromising on any values, you’re creating good ones!
Risks and New Beginnings
When I think about the risks I’ve taken in my career, the first risk I think about is the investment I made in my legal education. I graduated around the time of the housing crisis and what some have called the “great recession”. Back then, after the markets tanked, law firm offers that were once as solid as gold were revoked. This meant that graduates who were guaranteed jobs, suddenly had nowhere to turn.
We all survived that recession one way or another and thought the coast was clear. Then 2020 came around and now, more than ever, thousands of law school graduates will not be able to work this year. Many of these graduates may have spent their life savings and taken on heavy student loan debt to obtain a law degree, but are now unsure of their futures.
Right now, the entire world is on pause and I, like many others, am taking a step back to re-evaluate my path. These days, more than ever, it is important to have the space to breathe, reflect, and hope.
Mojoyin's Departure Memorandum to Her Colleagues
Facing Forks in the Road
Whenever I felt “stuck” in a job, it was usually because people were telling me that if I didn't make certain career moves, I would never progress.
Early in my career I really wanted to do international arbitration and was determined to make it happen. Then someone told me,
“Good luck trying! There aren’t many minority women working as arbitrators. It’s just a job for white men!”
I remember feeling so discouraged. It also didn’t help that recruiters would say,
“You're too senior/junior to become an arbitrator” and “You’re not the right profile for an arbitrator.”
I’ve realized now that a lot of people will try to make you follow the “standard” career trajectory e.g. Go to Law School - Graduate – Pass the Bar – Work in a Firm/Work as a Law Clerk – Become a Partner/Become a Judge – Become Successful. Yes, a lot of people follow that path . . . but even more people do not. It’s more important to focus on what I want for myself, not what others think I should do.
The Formula for Fulfillment
For me, being happy is no longer about being perfect. It's about being satisfied with what I have and being proud of what I have accomplished.
I think a lot of women in my field tend to be perfectionists with Type A personalities – and the sad truth is that we're the worst when it comes to feeling happy with ourselves. We feel like there's always something we haven't accomplished or done, and until we get it, we will never be satisfied. We don't ever take a step back to look at all the things we've already done.
I used to think I had to have a perfect house, perfect job, perfect spouse, and look perfect. And as far as money, I found that the more money I made, the more nervous I got about maintaining it – Is my bank account as healthy as I think it should be? Do I need to diversify my investments?
The truth though, is that if one’s happiness depends on money, then no matter how much money one has it will never be enough.
When I started letting go of the things that I thought I NEEDED to do in order to be happy, and just let myself be satisfied with the things I already had, then I stopped feeling overwhelmed. Now, I find my happiness in growing my faith in God, and in simpler things like writing, spending time with family, and watching Blackadder marathons!
Words of Wisdom
Don't box yourself in. If you have a general set of skills, you can do anything. I didn't apply to be an internal investigations lawyer, I applied to be a general litigation lawyer and was given the chance to work on internal investigations. I really enjoy compliance and investigations work and also greatly enjoy general commercial litigation. It may sound geeky, but researching is actually quite fun for me! I know these passions and skills can be applied to many types of careers.
You don't have to do it all or have it all. NO ONE does! So shed the superwoman trope. Superwomen only exist in movies. This is also why I don’t believe in demanding that anyone should “lean in” or “fall back” or whatever the new ‘fad instruction’ for women is these days (why is everyone so bent on coming up with new rules for women?). I think it is much easier to just focus on finding (or creating) the work that you enjoy. When you enjoy your work, it feels much easier to perform at your best, to participate 100%, and pursue your ideal career goals. You’ll be surprised how far it takes you!
Lawyer By Day, Comic Book Creator By Night
I've spent many years keeping my talents hidden or sharing them only within a very tight inner circle.Time after time, I was encouraged to step out into the open. And time after time, I refused!
I love being a lawyer, so I was content to keep lurking in my writer's groups, quietly network with other comic fans, and keep my writing as a part-time hobby. I mistakenly thought that I had to be either/or . . . either a lawyer, or a writer. Never both.
But after the 2020 pandemic hit, my entire world view changed. I learned the hard way that life is long enough to do ALL the things I want to do, but also too short to have any regrets. So I buckled down, built miiato.com, and finally released the books.
I'm super excited about the decision and have been very encouraged by the response. Now is the time for all of us to see more diverse books for children and to create the opportunities that we could only dream of years ago!
I can't wait to see where it goes!
Enjoyed Mojoyin's journey? Then let us know! Here are other inspiring moments.
Read: "Lamp Unto My Feet: A Journey of Surrender" - Light gives energy. God lights our feet to guide our steps, not to see the entire road! That’s when you have to surrender.